African Methodist Episcopal Church in Virginia City
The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and congregation in Virginia City functioned as one of two congregations organized, administered, and attended by African American residents of the Comstock during the peak years of the 1860s and 1870s.
After the Great Awakening waned in the United States by the late eighteenth century, and as American churches were consumed with issues regarding separation from their European counterparts, experiments with bi-racial congregations ended for the most part. As a result, African Americans began to establish separate places of worship. Black Baptist churches were founded in Virginia and Georgia in the 1780s, for example. Similarly, African American Methodists in Philadelphia broke away from the white congregation to form what became the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in the 1790s. These two denominations—black Baptists and AME—became the two most popular denominations among African Americans in the nineteenth century.
Fueled by the revivalism of the Second Great Awakening of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, African Americans joined Methodist and Baptist churches in large numbers, perhaps because each emphasized broad participation and drew ministers from ordinary folk. By the 1870s, there were 200,000 AME members and 500,000 black Baptists in the United States. It is no surprise, then, that Comstock-era Virginia City's African Americans formed two separate churches in the city—the First Baptist Church and an AME church.
The first mention of the AME church in Virginia City comes in 1863, when, at a convention of Western AME churches, Elder Jacob Mitchell reported having visited Virginia City and that plans were underway for the construction of an AME church building. In the meantime, members were given permission to use the building formerly occupied by the white Methodist Episcopal Church, probably a small wooden structure on the corner of D and Taylor streets that was constructed in 1861.
By 1865, a new AME church had been built on F Street. The church struggled to build a congregation, though—only thirteen members were reported in 1874, for example—and it frequently shared pastors with the Carson City AME church. A further blow was struck in October 1875, when the AME church was destroyed in the massive fire that claimed the heart of Virginia City. It appears to have been rebuilt, though, and it is mentioned in records as late as 1879.